The latest U.S. Census reveals a dramatic population shift in America. As of 2010, more households had dogs (43 million) than children (38 million). But with more families opting for four-legged children, what’s the cost to the dogs?
With human privileges come human problems. Are we at risk of killing dogs with our kindness?
Four out of five (81%) dog owners in America see their dogs as equal members of the household. Dogs often get an all-access pass to every aspect of their lives, from sleeping in their beds to going on family vacations. As Bob Moran, the CEO of PetSmart, told Smart Money magazine: “Pets have moved from the barnyard to the back porch to the living room, the bedroom and now under the sheets.”
We’re also giving them an all-access pass to our bank accounts, evidenced by the recession-resistant nature of the pet industry. Year over year, the category has grown and shows no signs of stopping. As of 2011, the American Pet Products Association (APPA) reported that spending surpassed $50 billion, driven by “pet services,” which includes grooming, boarding, pet hotels and pet sitting.
Growth is also being driven by the rise of new products. From dog beer to Neuticles (testicular implants for your neutered pet), Americans are going to great length to ensure our furry children don’t miss out on anything we enjoy.
Again, at what cost?
New research on pet health suggests that when we humanize our pets we are passing on our bad habits. Obesity in humans is on the rise, and right behind us are our pets. According to the Food Research and Action Center, 68 percent of American adults are overweight or obese, and the rate for dogs is 55 percent and climbing (in 2007, only 43 percent of the dog population was considered overweight or obese). The problem has moved beyond our ability to buckle our belt (or leash as it may be). We’re seeing serious health repercussions across the board. Pet diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure, heart and respiratory disease are all on the rise.
It’s not all bad. With human problems come human solutions. Over the years the pet food industry has followed the human food industry in tackling obesity with low fat foods, portion control meals and exercise incentives. Last year, we helped our Del Monte client launch Milo’s Kitchen, a range of natural dog treats that includes low-fat chicken jerky. Science Diet has released a Nutrisystem look-alike weight loss system, and other Del Monte brands, such as Milk-Bone, have introduced healthy treats that include good-for-you ingredients like flax seed and carrots.
All of these products are steps in the right direction, but perhaps there is a bigger opportunity at hand. With almost 40 percent of Americans owning a dog and 68 percent of them being overweight, maybe we need to stop trying to fit dogs into our lives and learn a few tricks from them. Brands like Jenny Craig and Wii are already capitalizing on the idea with dog/owner workout regimens, but there is certainly more that can be learned from our furry friends if we simply let them take us outside.